Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: english

Short travel reflection: Accents

I’ve been thinking about the concept of an “accent” lately. For the sake of simplifying the matter we’ll stick to accents of the English language in this post. Having grown up in Canada, I am very accustomed to the Canadian/American accent, if I may use these terms interchangeably. To me, Canadian/American English is “standard” English – I may not even consider them to be accents. Of course, living in Toronto, a very multicultural city, I’ve been exposed to many different types of accents – a few examples are Chinese, Indian, and Korean – and it’s all been very normal for me.

It wasn’t until I started living in Europe that I began to gain a broader insight into what it means to have an accent. English is widely spoken and you can find a myriad of accents – Spanish, German, French, Scottish, Welsh…you name it. I realized that my definition of “accents” may have been skewed. People have accents not because they don’t have a good grasp of the English language – on the contrary, many people with “accents” may have a better command of the English language than I do (English is my second language). I began to understand that an accent is merely a difference in pronunciation or word usage that is due to regional variations and language patterns of one’s mother tongue. It has nothing to do with a person’s understanding of the language or ability to use it.

We probably all have an accent. (Image taken from

It is true that many people speak English as a second or third language (or a second “first” language). However, some accents are very similar to the American accent, so much that I sometimes can’t even pinpoint it, and I wonder if that’s just the way it is, or if the way that these people have learned English has been influenced by the American culture. And I admit, with strong accents (anything that is distinctively different from American or British), I sometimes make the mistake of judging the speaker and thinking that they don’t speak English fluently. I don’t deny that learning and mastering a new language is a difficult task, but to assume that someone is “bad” at English based on an accent is the wrong way of going about it.

I think in some way, the term “accent” has gained a slightly negative connotation in our society through stereotypical generalizations and is even derogatory in some cases. If someone has an accent, then they are automatically labelled as a foreigner who may not be as adept as a native user at speaking or writing the language (in reality that may not be true), and unfortunately sometimes they are looked down upon. Sometimes I hesitate using the word “accent” as I don’t know whether it could offend someone, especially in Glasgow, where English IS the official language. I’ve come to make this city my home, yet I am complaining about the Glaswegians having an accent that is difficult to understand – isn’t that a little…rude, somehow? I am the foreigner here and I am the one with the accent, no? Or is there such thing as “proper” English in the first place?

Maybe I am just overthinking it. If we have to get to the root of it, then any variation of English would be an accent except for the very original English, which I suppose came from…England? Then the English British accent should be the most standard one while the Canadian/American accent is no different than, say, an Australian accent. So, while my spoken English may sound perfectly normal in Canada or parts of the US, in the UK, I am probably regarded as someone with a silly Canadian accent 😛

Liège, among other things

This entry contains no pictures.

After that bit about travel fatigue, I immediately heeded some friends’ advice (not before re-visiting France, though) to kind of “take it easy” just for a day. Hence, on Sunday, I stopped by Liège to visit some friends and vowed to make it as relaxing a trip as possible. Unlike other trips, this one was purely intended to be a chance for me to say hi and reconnect with the buddies I met in Portugal. I like networking with my “classmates”, if I may call it that, especially over a couple of beers.

Yup, beer was one of the reasons I chose to go to Liège in the first place. It wasn’t that Liège was particularly known for beer, but one of the friends there seemed to be quite a beer fanatic, so I was sure that he’d know of some great Belgian beers. People who know me will probably be surprised that I was the one who proposed having a drink, since I almost never initiate any type of drinking activity, but I figured, we’re in Belgium, why the heck not? Then again, I can’t tell a good beer from a bad one, so even if my friend told me that the worst beer in the world is amazing, I’d probably have believed him.

Do I even like beer? I can honest say that at the moment I still prefer beer over red wine. I guess that’s one aspect where Belgium wins over France.

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So this is Louvain-la-Neuve

Alright, day 5 in Louvain-la-Neuve, and I am bored.

Louvain-la-Neuve reminds me very much of Waterloo. Or shall I say, the University of Waterloo. The entire place gave me the feeling of a gigantic campus, and I suppose technically that’s what it really is. To give you Waterlooians (I refuse to use the term Waterloosers) an idea of this little place, the distance from home to work is approximately the same as the distance from MKV to DWE. The only difference is that everything you need is en route – restaurants, a shopping mall, grocery stores, cinemas…you get the idea. There are no cars or buses or vehicles within the campus/city – it is literally made for walking.

And I like that, except the part where I have to carry my laptop in my backpack to and from work, but that’s only about half an hour of the entire day combined. One thing I expected even before coming here is the cost of living. I’ve heard that Belgium is on the high end even in Europe, and to be in a place where 99% of the population is university students who are stuck within a one kilometre radius, it makes sense that prices are jacked up. That means I have to make wise choices in terms of spending…thank God for research stipends.

In Belgium, there are a couple of interesting things I noted that are a little different from France:

(1) The numbers – I’ve been warned of this before, so it wasn’t particularly shocking. It became apparent when I was ordering food for the first time. In France, 70 in French is “soixante-dix” (literally “sixty-ten”) and 90 is “quatre-vingt-dix” (literally “four-twenty-ten”…four times twenty plus ten, such rationality). In Belgium, however, 70 is “septante” and 90 is “nonante”, but 80 is still “quatre-vingts”. Well I just gotta say…THAT MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE! Now, why didn’t they just make 80 “huitante” as well?

(2) Les bises – In other words, kisses on the cheeks. In France, generally it’s one on the right cheek and one on the left cheek for acquaintances. I was told by a colleague here, after trying the right-left bise, that it’s just one on the right cheek and that’s it. Alright, I said to myself, time to adjust to the local customs. However, I’ve gotten the right-left bise several times and even one that was right-left-right…so, I am confused. Someone explain!?

(3) Lots of English – That’s right, people generally speak English here. Unlike Bordeaux, Louvain-la-Neuve is the host to lots and lots and lots of international students, so it is more or less an expectation for people in the lab to speak English, and it is no surprise that an entire office-full of people converse daily in English. This felt a little strange for me, ironically, because I had gotten used to speaking French in the office and it just doesn’t feel so right anymore when I switched back to English. So now, I speak to my supervisor in French (he asked me to choose between English and French, and I chose French for the sake of practice) and the colleagues in my office in English…or French, or Frenglish, or whatever comes out of my mouth. You get the point.

Out of extreme boredom this weekend – and that is not an understatement – I went out to take some pictures, as I do in any new city. Here is a more pictorial introduction to the city, and if you’re still interested in why I have been so bored, please continue to read on after the pictures.

Train station of Louvain-la-Neuve. This is the terminus, which means I HAVE to take the train if I want to go ANYWHERE outside of this city – unless I have a car, which I don’t. The great thing, though, is that the train station is right in the centre of the city, and walking from either my house or my workplace takes literally less than 10 minutes. This shall be very convenient for future out-of-town explorations.

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